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Introduction to Spanish tapas

We’re aware that, sadly, lots of people have had holidays cancelled this year, particularly to Spanish regions. To ease your disappointment, why not welcome the Mediterranean in? Spanish tapas is a sociable, sumptuous style of dining that you can easily replicate at home!

So what is tapas?

table of spanish tapas

Tapas isn’t the food itself. Rather, it refers to the style of serving. A tapa just means a small portion of food, so with that definition, anything can be served tapas style!

That said, we’re going to imbue a sense of authenticity to proceedings. The point of having tapas is to enjoying small portions that you share so you get to try lots of different things. 

The history of tapas

The origin of tapas comes from bars serving morsels that patrons could use to cover their drinks in order to keep flies out. In Spanish, the word tapas means ‘to cover’. People enjoyed these nibbles so much that they became an integral to the bar experience as the drinks.

Today, tapas include an enormous, exciting variety that come from three main categories: pinchos, cosas de picar and cazuelas. Pinchos are the tapas that are eaten with a toothpick, cosas de picar are pinched with the fingers and cazuelas are usually more elaborate: they may include several ingredients, be accompanied by a sauce and so on.  

Delicious tapas ideas

Pan con Tomate

A Catalan (Barcelona region) speciality, pan con tomate is bread that has been toasted with olive oil and rubbed with chopped tomates and garlic, much like Italian bruschetta. Some Catalonians even enjoy this for breakfast! 

Aceitunas

Perhaps the most popular tapas, olives are both bitter and sweet and can really enrich a meal. Feeling fancy? Stuff the olives with bell peppers, small pieces of cheese or anchovy. Yum!

Albóndigas

Simply put, these are meatballs in a sauce. This is a classic tapas dish but you can be really creative with your sauces – white wine and cream, tomato and basil, anything goes!

Jamon

Jamon describes some of the cured hams you can have. Serrano and Iberico are the obvious choice here – they’re salty and because of the extensive marbling in the meat, they’re full of flavour. They work in perfect harmony with bread and cheese. 

Ham Croquetas

Potato croquettes were popular at family dinner time during the 1980s but they originate from tapas meals. They’re breadcrumbed potato, but this variance includes ham and leeks. Both crisp and fluffy, served warm they are a satisfying comfort food. Most tapas we’re suggesting just need to be assembled, but click here for a great ham croquetas recipe.

Patatas bravas

Our personal favourite, these chunks of fried potato are topped with a spicy tomato sauce and garlic aioli. They’re an instant party hit and are a great stomach-liner if you’re enjoying a few drinks.  Click here to learn how to make them. 

Cheese

When it comes to Spanish cheeses, they’re made from either cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk or a blend. Unlike in Britain, cheeses made from cow’s milk are the least popular. Cheese types can also be categorised into fresco (fresh), semi-curado (part aged) and curado (aged).

You can use whatever cheese you like, but if you want to try and source some traditional tapas cheeses, we’d recommend these: 

  • Manchego – quite a strong cheese, this aged variety is really robust, made from sheep’s milk and probably the easiest to find in the shops. 
  • Mahon – really salty, this cow’s milk cheese is from Menorca, and it’s said that the strong salt presence is from the saltiness of the sea air.
  • Cabrales – blue cheese lovers will enjoy this one. It’s got a really mystical quality because it’s wrapped in vine leaves and aged in caves in the Picos de Europa mountains. 

Drinks

What is a meal without something to wash it all down with? If you’re a wine connoisseur, you might enjoy taking some time to identify some lovely pairings, but we’d strongly encourage going all in and enjoying some sangria!

Sangria is a popular Spanish cocktail made with wine, fruit, and sugar. It’s really versatile, too. It’s typically made with red wine, but for a summery feel, you can opt for white wine and mint and peaches. You can also use orange juice as a substitute for non-drinkers and children. 

Don’t go to significant extra expense, but purchasing a picnic drinks dispenser will mean that people can help themselves and you can focus on the food.

Setting the scene

The food is obviously the heart of any party, but if you’re putting in effort to serve some lovely dishes, it would be remiss to neglect the ambience!

Firstly, if it’s warm enough, eat outside! If you’re likely to be catching up well into the night, light lots of candles, or set up strings of fairy lights for a soft glow.

If you’re trying to beat grey clouds back, choose a vibrant colour scheme to run through your tableware, but also add to the festivities by adding some bright flowers, and maybe some bunting or streamers. 

A long dinner table will allow for several dishes on the go at once, and you can enable your guests to pick at food by serving on platters – wooden ones give a rustic feel.

Whether your travel plans have been scuppered or you simply want to try something new, enjoy picking at some delicious foods with friends! 

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